When plotting your book the scene you probably know immediately is the Inciting Incident. It’s the event that kicks off all of the action in your book. The Inciting Incident is what pushes your character to make some choice or embark on some journey that is the main purpose of your story. The Inciting Incident is the event that kick starts everything else.
In Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the Inciting Incident for the overall story is Princess Leia putting a message for Obi-Wan Kenobi and plans to the Death Star in R2-D2. For Luke Skywalker’s personal hero’s journey, it is triggering the message on R2-D2 so he sees it.
Why do I list two? Because different plot lines may have different Inciting Incidents.
In this case you could argue that Princess Leia sending the message covers both, but if Luke had never triggered the message to see himself, his part of the story never would have happened. It is the event that started everything for him. It is what first got him thinking that maybe, just maybe there was something he should be doing.
Another debatable Inciting Incident is the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. In the book, (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum) the Inciting Incident is definitely the tornado. It is what sets Dorothy off on her adventure to Oz, but the movie has a number of differences from the book. One of the biggest is that everything that happens in Oz seems to be a dream. So did the tornado kick off events or was it Miss Gulch taking Toto? I’ll argue the second because it is what caused this series of events. Without it, would Dorothy have visited Oz? Not in the movie.
Now the big question. Do you need an Inciting Incident? We have already established that Ordinary World is a step that you might leave out or show out of order. What about the Inciting Incident?
Well, it 100% has to have happened. Without it you have no story.
But do you have to show it?
Usually, yes. I think in general it is something readers want to see and experience for themselves. I definitely would not hide it in a big bunch of Ordinary World. You could though, and authors of fast-paced books like thrillers sometimes choose to, start instead right in the action. One example of this can be found in The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz.
Koontz’s protagonist is Jane Hawk, an FBI agent, and prior to the book beginning, Hawk’s husband and a number of other people have committed suicide. We don’t, however, start with his death, which almost certainly is what got Jane personally involved in this case and on this journey. Instead we jump right into the story with another soon-to-be apparent suicide. This is, in the overall story structure, more of a Raise the Stakes scene than Inciting Incident because Hawk was already on her path.
What is your favorite Inciting Incident, in your story or someone else’s? How do you know it was the Inciting Incident? What would have happened differently if this event hadn’t occured?
Share and come back. I’ll be addressing all the other scenes and events that you should consider when plotting your next book.
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check our her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing.